Essential Quality wins Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Initially out of the picture, Essential Quality regrouped for a signature win that may set him up for a big 2021.

Essential Quality took charge in the stretch to overtake 94-1 long shot Hot Rod Charlie and win Friday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by three-quarters of a length on the first day of the season-ending world championships at Keeneland.

Hot Rod Charlie and 4-5 favorite Jackie’s Warrior dueled through the final turn before Essential Quality, initially off the pace after an early bump, recovered and emerged from a four-wide pack. The colt held on at the wire as Keepmeinmind, a 30-1 long shot, made a late charge. Essential Quality improved to 3-0 and established himself as a possible contender in next year’s Kentucky Derby.

Jockey Luis Saez earned his first Breeders’ Cup win and was grateful for his mount.

“To be here and to have it with this horse, it’s very special,” he said. “First time that I ride him, I knew he was going to be a super horse.”

Essential Quality, who won the Grade 1 Breeders Futurity at Keeneland last month, could be in the discussion as top 2-year-old colt. Trainer Brad Cox, a Louisville native, wasn’t ready to look ahead to next May but didn’t dismiss the thought, either.

“Well, sure. It’s the obviously thought or dream, I guess you would say,” said Cox, who also won the preceding Juvenile Fillies Turf with Aunt Pearl.

“Let the dust settle, see how he comes out of the race. We’ll map out a plan this winter. But, very excited about this horse next year, his 3-year-old campaign.”

Essential Quality covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.09 and paid $9.40, $6.20 and $4.40.

Hot Rod Charlie returned $51.60 and $24 while Keepmeinmind paid $11.20 to show. Jackie’s Warrior faded to fourth.

Two races earlier, Vequist made her case as a Kentucky Oaks contender with a two-length victory in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies.

With Joel Rosario aboard, the daughter of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner and 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ Nyquist surged past pacesetting Dayoutoftheoffice in the stretch and rode the rail to her second win. It marked the third consecutive year a horse from the Parx racetrack/casino outside Philadelphia won a Breeders’ Cup race.

“To be able to compete against those kind of horses is really a good thing and felt really good,” trainer Butch Reid said.

The races highlighted the first of two days of the $31 million event at Keeneland, which is hosting for the second time and first since 2015. It’s being held without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Saturday’s stakes card features nine races including the marquee Classic.

Other Cup stakes results and news:

– Aunt Pearl went wire to wire from the No. 5 post to win the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf by 2 1/2 lengths over Mother Earth and improve to 3-0. She won last month’s Grade 2 Jessamine at Keeneland by a similar margin.

– Fire At Will, a 30-1 long shot, surged past pacesetter Outadore in the stretch to win the 1-mile Juvenile Turf by three lengths over Battleground. It was his third consecutive stakes win.

– Favorite Golden Pal led off the day with a three-quarters-of-a-length win in the $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint over 5 1/2 furlongs. He quickly broke from the far post in the 14-horse field and led by two lengths in the stretch before holding off Cowan at the wire.

– French jockey Christophe Soumillon left Keeneland after testing positive for COVID-19. He was scheduled to ride Order of Australia in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Mile and Tarnawa in the Turf. His positive test was the only one of 55 given to all Breeders’ Cup jockeys.

Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

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BENSALEM, Pa. – Taiba won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby by three lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Taiba ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.67 and paid $4.80, $3 and $2.60.

It was Baffert’s fourth win in the Grade 1 event at Parx Racing. He also won in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Smith won the race for the third time, all aboard Baffert horses.

Zandon returned $3.80 and $2.60. Cyberknife was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third and paid $3 to show.

Taiba was coming off a second-place finish in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in July. The colt was 12th in the Kentucky Derby under Tim Yakteen, who took over training him while Baffert was serving a 90-day suspension.

“He had a little bit of a rough trip in the Haskell, but we had some time to get him ready for this one,” Baffert said from his base in California. “He proved today he is a good horse. He is getting better and better.”

Baffert Taiba will be pointed toward the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. The colt has three wins in five starts this year.

Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs has modified paths to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, awarding points to the top five finishers in qualifying races and increasing significance for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and late prep season events.

Most Derby prep races during the qualifying series for 3-year-olds will award points on a 10-4-3-2-1 sliding scale after using a 10-4-2-1 system since 2013. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, run during the season-ending championships on Nov. 4 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, will increase points from 20-8-4-2 to 30-12-9-6-3 to differentiate the Grade I event from others during prep season.

Select prep races for the 20-horse Derby field have elevated points from a 10-4-2-1 scale to 20-8-6-4-2 to increase their importance and motivate hopefuls to begin their 3-year-old campaigns earlier in the season, track officials stated in a release.

“We believe these modifications adhere to and amplify our goal of assembling the finest group of 3-year-olds in the starting gate for a race at the classic distance of 1\ miles on the first Saturday in May,” Churchill Downs vice president/general manager Mike Ziegler said.

The 149th Kentucky Derby and Oaks for fillies will be held on May 5-6, 2023. Derby qualifying season begins with Saturday’s $300,000, Grade III Iroquois for 2-year-olds at Churchill Downs.

The point changes apply to Oaks qualifiers.

Elevated Derby preps include the Lecomte at Fair Grounds in Louisiana; Southwest at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas; Withers at Aqueduct in New York; Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in Florida; Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in California; Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs; and John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in Kentucky.